Travel trip France: Fireworks, Tour de France and Pharrell concert on the itinerary; terrorism on the mind | VailDaily.com

Travel trip France: Fireworks, Tour de France and Pharrell concert on the itinerary; terrorism on the mind

The Carcassonne fireworks display for Bastille Day light up the night sky over the old castle. The celebratory day ended tragically with news about terrorist attacks in Nice, France.
Ross Leonhart | rleonhart@vaildaily.com |

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series about vacationing in southern France. To read the first part, visit http://www.vaildaily.com.

It’s hard to have time for jet lag after an eight-hour flight over the ocean when there’s so much room for activities.

After landing in Toulouse, France, my mom and dad’s happy faces welcomed me, along with a busy schedule for the next two weeks.

INTERESTING SPORTING EVENT

Up first was the Tour de France, which had a stage start in my parents’ second home, Carcassonne, France.

The bike race is like no other sporting event I’ve ever been to, and it’s really a long advertising campaign with a race mixed in the middle. An hour before the top racers in the world come through, the caravan parades down the same route.

The caravan consists of sponsors cruising the roads, tossing everything from pencils to hats to candy and all sorts of random items for those lining the streets to scramble for. People, young and old, love free stuff, I learned, no matter what it is — even floppy hats that don’t fit.

There is no other sporting event where fans can easily be within arm’s reach of the athletes like the Tour de France. It’s really a leap of faith by event organizers, hoping nothing bad happens. As we learned during this Tour de France, there is such a thing as too close for comfort, as Tour winner Chris Froome ran into the back of a motorcycle that had to stop abruptly because too many fans were in the road.

With my GoPro set up on the side of the road, I worried about how terrible it would be if a gust of wind blew it into the oncoming racers. I ended up holding the camera instead.

In a blink of an eye, the bike racers come and go, and we take the short stroll home to watch the end of the stage on TV after a baguette sandwich — my favorite meal of the whole trip.

CASTLE FIREWORKS

Bastille Day, July 14, celebrates the beginning of the French Revolution and the unity of the French people. It’s like America’s Fourth of July, fireworks and all.

Again, a short walk out of my parent’s apartment takes us to a stunning setting with the Carcassonne castle in the distance and the old bridges crossing the river. (Carcassonne got its name from the woman in power who threw the last pig over the castle walls to trick invaders waiting outside into thinking that they had plenty of food and could stay holed up in the castle. The invaders left after seeing the pig fly over, thinking it wasn’t worth waiting around.)

The fireworks in Carcassonne are second to Paris, and it’s a spectacular site to see fireworks go off above a castle. The show featured fire around the castle, signifying the multiple times invaders tried to burn it down.

Later that night, I saw the news about the terrorist attacks in Nice, France. My cousins and aunt and uncle were in Nice. We went to bed not knowing if they were OK because we couldn’t get ahold of them. I tried to ease my mind by telling myself that the kids, who flew in that day, would be too tired to go to the show. Thank goodness I was right.

After the U.S. Embassy issued a statement warning Americans not to go to large gatherings in public, we considered changing some of our plans. But, we thought, if we start living in fear, then that’s no way to live.

We went to a Pharrell concert a few nights later, and I hate to admit it, but I was gazing around throughout the concert looking for a van driving toward the grandstands and what our escape plan could be.

Pharrell put on an amazing show and helped lift spirits, asking the crowd, “Are you scared?” and then asking them to sing together the French national anthem — a truly moving moment that I’ll never forget.

In the end, we were all clapping along, feeling like a room without a roof because we’re happy — just like the people who enjoy the French lifestyle.

Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.